Three years ago, The Mummy single-handedly introduced and canceled the Universal Dark Universe franchise in an expensive misfire of a Tom Cruise action film. As a devout horror fan I have dabbled in the Universal Monster movies of decade’s past (however, I have not reviewed them yet) and I have looked at and review Hammer Horror’s interpretations of the classic characters. Still, I cannot say I was very excited about what I believed Universal had in-store, with The Mummy and Dracula Untold (which was initiated into the Dark Universe last minute only to be disowned again) coming across as action vehicles for their leading men. From the ashes of Universal’s failed attempt, a phoenix arises in the form of Leigh Whanell‘s The Invisible Man.
The Invisible Man came out on late-February of this year and was met with a very positive critical reception from critics and moviegoers alike. I was expecting, at best, a solid horror film with technical merit, but the general response suggested I was in for something a little more than that.
In a couple of years, everyone who talks about this year at the box-office will have to mention the Corona virus and how it brought theaters to its knees, forcing major features out onto home-video months before intended (it was actually the platform I watched The Invisible Man). However, it had been a dreadful year at the box-office for the horror genre in-general. As a horror fan who runs a horror website, I understood that the genre needed a win. The Invisible Man most certainly brought that win, achieving over one-hundred million dollars worldwide and critical acclaim. In-comparison to 2017’s The Mummy, The Invisible Man brought only one-fourth of the box-office revenue, but, whereas The Mummy cost around 200 million dollars, The Invisible Man was produced for only 7 million. The only disappointment about The Invisible Man’s box-office performance was that, if it hadn’t been for the Corona outbreak, it likely could have made substantially more than it did.
The Invisible Man is directed by Leigh Whanell with a screenplay written by him as well (based on a short novel by H.G. Wells, but I honestly think, like, say Hallow Man, it feels very different from that story). If Leigh’s name sounds familiar to you, then that means you have been paying attention to the horror genre for the last decade. Leigh Whanell co-created the Saw franchise and made his directorial debut with the decent Insidious: Chapter Three, meanwhile his writing can be found in many films directed by James Wan.
The film features a cast comprised of names like Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Feid, Harriet Dryer, Michael Dorman, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen. As you might expect, The Invisible Man is about a man who can turn invisible. That isn’t a shock by any stretch. What is more significant is the young woman played by Elisabeth Moss and her relationship with Adrian Griffin, a mean and manipulative man whose every action is done to control her.
In search of her freedom, she manages to escape his imprisonment and seeks refuge away from him, beaten and traumatized by the torment he has inflicted on her. She finds refuge by staying with her sister’s ex-husband James and his daughter, and over time, it feels like she might be able to come back from the brink. She soon discovers that Adrian has committed suicide and has left a sizable amount of wealth behind for her, with certain stipulations added. Everything is well, until she finds her life being disrupted through a means she doesn’t immediately understand.
Even after I heard the critical reception for this film, I was not certain I would like it. I like the idea of The Invisible Man, but I also understand that positive critical reception is sometimes awarded for technique and being faithful to the subject-matter. That’s fine, but for a character and story that has existed and been interpreted as often as The Invisible Man, it is not enough that it is technically sound and efficient. Thankfully, I was wrong about The Invisible Man.
The technique in this film is absolutely efficient, mind you, with Leigh Whanell offering a break-through performance as director in this film. In-fact, he even gives close-friend James Wan’s best work a run for it’s money, complimented by a screenplay that is detail-oriented and intelligent. This is a different approach to The Invisible Man and offers an approach to horror that is not seen a lot.
Bolstered by an effective score from Benjamin Wallfisch, The Invisible Man is certain to check off the boxes for what everyone has come to expect, but it has more than a few tricks up its sleeve as well. This is a film about a man and his downright torture of a woman he wanted to keep under his thumb, like the South Korean film Oldboy or a great episode of Black Mirror, the man behind it all has all new and inventive ways to inflict himself upon his victim and when it lands – it lands.
Elisabeth Moss knocks it out of the park in her performance, carrying depth as she is put on the defensive against immeasurable odds, and building up her antagonist. I feel that, on occasion, horror movies and movies in-general, for that matter, confuse a strong character with a physically strong or willful character. Elisabeth’s character feels human. She isn’t overtly clever, but she feels like a normal person who has to roll with the punches. I think that’s important because it is an imbalance of power. It isn’t about a back in fourth, but about survival, and you want to root for the actresses’ survival in this film. Elisabeth Moss really elevates this film on an emotional level.
Aldis Hodge is worth singling out, I think, as well. He isn’t as significant of a part, but it is always a win whenever you’re met with a character and you like them. The way he is fatherly toward his daughter and the way he approaches Cee’s (Elisabeth) trauma, he just feels like a very likable person.
I think a lot of the characters and a lot of the writing comes together cohesively, all built around establishing Adrian as a manipulative, larger than life man, and never wavering from that. Even if it feels clear early-on that it isn’t all in Cee’s head, the way the film hints at the idea, while never bought into, still actively builds into what type of man Adrian is.
The Invisible Man is a very good film and is certainly an early-contender for the best horror film for 2020 this year, and, as a matter of fact, might even land as one of the best films released this year in-general (especially if the theaters don’t re-open).
Placement on the List: The Greats
(The Greats, The Goods, The Decents, The Bads)